Saturday 2 March 2019

Taranaki 1 - Clockwise round the mountain

With thanks to Venture Taranaki for hosting me
It's only a half-hour flight from Auckland to New Plymouth, so I could have got a really good start on this weekend's jaunt - if only the first ferry of the day on a Saturday left at 6am, as usual, and not 7am. So instead I arrived in Taranaki (never, I was soon to learn, to be referred to as the 'Naki) at midday. It was a glorious clear day and Mt Taranaki, that fabulously symmetrical Fujiyama lookalike, was clear and sharp against an almost cloudless blue sky.
Having started in thrall to natural beauty, it felt especially perverse to go, as the first item in my itinerary (of course, I am here for work), to look at thousands of dead animals. But yes, that is what Manutahi Museum is: a celebration of the taxidermist's skill. John, who owns the collection, is a fanatic but not a trophy hunter - he is as aware of looming extinction as anyone and, since these animals have already been killed and mounted (many years ago, most of them) he just wants them to be cared for and admired and kept as a kind of memorial. For me it was at first quite confronting and uncomfortable, especially since he has not only a white rhino head on the wall but a black rhino too, and you, dear regular reader 😀 know my rhino connection. I can see his point, though. The rhinos, by the way, you poachers out there, have had their horns removed long ago and replaced with fibreglass. So don't bother breaking in.
John's enthusiasm is a marvel in itself, and his intimate knowledge of each of the animals preserved there is astonishing: he just reels off the names and statistics, without hesitation. There's a huge polar bear, a lion, a zebra, warthog, black bear, reindeer and masses of mounted birds (his speciality) plus scored of various types of deer and antelope from all over the world. There are stuffed possums and foxes and jackals and a cheetah. There's a bison, scores of varied antlers and horns (again, no rhino - or ivory), bulls, an African wild dog, a dingo, possum, two-headed lamb, and a plastic dish of baby rats preserved in methylated spirits. Plus tarantulas and other spiders and insects, fish, shells, eggs, fossils, rocks... Astonishing, truly. Oh, by the way, though John wouldn't dream of killing these animals, he does make an exception for wild pigs and deer, the shooting of which he refers to as a "meat recovery mission". Fair enough, i suppose. No native species in his collection, incidentally - it's not allowed, even if he finds a dead bird on the road.
It was still a relief to emerge into the sunshine again. My next mission was to drive the Forgotten World Highway to Whangamomona - which did turn out to be a mission, truly. My hire car was a neat little Corolla, but even so, on that narrow road that constantly wound up, and then down again, it took a lot of attention - attention that was equally constantly being enticed away from the road by the scenery. The mountain was initially in every view but eventually sank away out of sight, leaving enticing views into valleys, across farmland and volcanic lumpy bits, some neatly grazed and golden, some bushy and green. There were saddles to cross, a railway to follow, sheep and cows and horses, and, with the windows open, cicadas and birds to hear as I wound my way through the hills. It was gorgeous, really. And - thankfully - no traffic!
Then I got to Whangamomona, population 20, which is self-consciously quirky, having declared itself a republic within NZ and occasionally electing a sheep as its president. You can buy a passport to have stamped at the pub. It's a bit of fun I suppose, but the French girl behind the bar didn't have her heart in it so it fell a bit flat really. Oh well, it's a tick.
And then I drove all the way back again, seduced by the Golden Hour gilding everything I looked at, and up into the huge perfect circle of bush that surrounds the mountain. There was yet more winding until I got to Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge, which is meant to have a Swiss cottage feel to its rooms. I can't vouch for that because when I went to check in they said "Um, who are you again?" Turns out the manager got the booking confirmation email from Venture Taranaki, but didn't get around to putting it into the system. And the hotel was full. But his nice wife Bernie (he, notably, didn't show his face to me at any point during my stay) offered me a staff bedroom, which was perfectly fine if not at all fancy and definitely not Swiss. All's well that ends well, eh? Especially because they do a mean sticky date pudding there, with lashings of butterscotch sauce.


the queen said...

No native animals? I don’t understand how deer aren’t native.

TravelSkite said...

Because they were introduced, for hunting - and, like every other introduced animal, they’ve become a damned nuisance. Don’t ever get a Kiwi started on possums. We have no native mammals other than two species of bat. None! Just birds and a few lizards.


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